Friday, March 4, 2011

Anime-inspired Video Games: Xenogears (PSX)

Originally Released on: PS1 on Oct. 20, 1998.
Developer: Square Company Limited
Director: Tetsuya Takahashi
Composer: Yasunori Mitsuda

"Stand tall and shake the heavens," that is the inventive and powerful tagline for Xenogears, Squaresoft's classic RPG. It was originally introduced to the American public as a short demo included in Parasite Eve. It only gave a small glace to this epic RPG that clocks in at well over 80 hours for first time players. The RPG is an epic saga about destiny, psychological issues, byzantine power struggles, racism, reincarnation, and humanity's resilience. It is a classic RPG wrapped up with an excellent cast of characters, one of the best video game story lines, and an incredible musical score.

My first experience with this game was the demo included in Parasite Eve, I was fascinated by it because of its giant robots and unique setting. My brother bought the game when it came out and he was addicted from the outset. The storyline starts off with a mysterious anime opening the words "I am alpha and omega. the beginning and the end. the first and the last." The camera pans over a massive ship, all of a sudden the emergency signals turn on. They use emergency measures to stop the problem, but nothing can stop it. The captain calls for the ship to be evacuated. As the evacuation ships leave, they are getting destroyed in their escape. The captain sets the self-destruct button to destroy the ship. From the wreckage a naked girl walks out and sees the remnants of the destroyed ship fall into the ocean. At first this opening really has little to do with the main story, but the importance shows itself about 75% in the storyline, and when it happens it is one hell of a plot twist.

The world of Xenogears is populated by two main empires, Aveh and Kislev. Aveh is a desert country with thousands of years of history and an ousted royal family. Kislev is an urban imperial city, with Nortune being the main capital of Kislev. They have been at war for centuries, gaining and losing little ground between then. The dynamic of this never ending war changes when they start excavating ancient robotic technology called Gears. It also changes when a mysterious military know as the "Gebler" starts to aid one of the land empires. As the story expand you are introduced into two sky kingdoms. The kingdom behind the mysterious force is  a kingdom in the sky called Solaris ruled by Emperor Cain and the Gazel Ministry. Opposite of Solaris is the sky kingdom of Shevat. There is a singular religion called Ethos in this world, with a branch called Etone who purges and destroys creatures that go all over the world called wels. As you can see, the setting of Xenogears has a unique political dynamic that makes the world quite complicated.

Elly, the female lead
This volatile and violent is world is where the main story of Xenogears starts. The main story starts after that when the Fei Fong Wong wakes up from a nightmare in the small village of Lahan, a small town between the kingdoms of Aveh and Kislev. Fei has no recollection of who he is or where he came from. He is friends with the town doctor, Citan Uzuki. Citan has quite a bit of skeletons in his closet, in fact all the characters do. I suggest suspending whatever first impression you have when all the characters are introduced because it will be completely shattered by the time you have beaten the game. After certain events occur and Fei is banished from his town, he meets up with the main female protagonist, Elly Van Houten. The fiery orange-haired woman is an elite solder of Solaris, and because of that she looks down on people who live on land. They develop a friendship and Elly genuinely wants to help Fei in his journey, but she cannot leave the military. Her inner conflict provides much of the drama in the first half of the storyline. Fei meets Bart Fatima, the leader of the sand pirates and the fallen prince of the kingdom of Aveh. The party is rounded out by Billy Lee Black, Maria Balthazar, and Esmerelda Kasim. Billy Lee Black is a priest of the Ethos religion with father issues. Maria Balthazar is a young gear user from Shevat that has a grudge against Solaris because they kidnapped her grandfather. The last person to join the cast is another young girl named Esmerelda Kasim who has a mysterious connection with Elly and Fei.

 The cast of villain in Xenogears match the equally varied cast of protagonists. The Gazel Ministry are a group of people who died hundreds of years ago, but they were uploaded in computers in Solaris. They plot against Fei because of his significance in the world of Xenogears and they want to resurrect their bodies using the main cast, who are descendants of them. Grahf is a mysterious man who is a seeker of power who impedes the main cast. He also has one of the coolest theme songs ever put in a video game. Ramsus is the supreme head of the Gebler Miltary with his assistant Miang. The main villain is the incredibly manipulative and evil Krelian, who manipulates the Empire of Solaris from within. While he is evil, his motivations and character development is very human, which makes him a very unnerving character in the game.

I can't really say anything about the storyline (since that would spoil it) except that it twists and turns like no RPG I have ever played. The game has incredible and crazy plot twists happening on a regular basis. The world of Xenogears as you know it will changes in dramatic plot twists very often. Xenogears's storyline is very long, it takes place over 80 hours and the narrative has flashbacks from over 10,000 years ago. To call Xenogears epic is the understatement of the century, it is one of the most epic games ever made. It would make a superb anime that would last a couple of hundred episodes. I would also suggest that you the gamer do not attach yourself to a character in the cast because lots of people die in Xenogears. The X in the Xenogears logo is blood red for good reason, because lots of characters die. The story is appropriately very dark and mature since it deals with mature subject matter. It uses lots of religious imagery and references to psychology. There is a lot of Judeo-christian names and characters in the game. The game also got a lot of controversy because one of the main storylines in the game is to destroy "God." As a contemporary to Evangelion, there is lots of comparison with Eva. There is no doubt that Evangelion had an influence on Xenogears, they both have religious imagery, a flawed main cast, a incredibly bleak and dark storyline, and a similar robot design. To be honest, I wish more modern Japanese RPG's would copy the dark atmosphere and storytelling of Xenogears.

The game was made in the PlayStation generation, so it really hasn't aged that well. The game has character sprites on rotatable 3D backgrounds. It is really disconcerting when they zoom in really close and you can see the actual blocks of sprites. This is one game that deserves to get remade on a modern console of handheld console platform. The character designs for Xenogears is great, I love the anime artstyle of Xenogears. There is a reason why I chose Xenogears to be my first article on anime-inspired video games out of this massive list of subject material. Fei Fong Wong look the part of the martial artist. Elly Van Houten has a very sexy character design, while wearing a very modest outfit that would be expected from an elite soldier. The characters look great, from the rugged Bart Fatima to the pampered princess design of Maria Balthazar. It is a pity that the in game sprites couldn't really showcase the great character design.

Billy Lee Black
The music in Xenogears is incredible, it is the soundtrack that turned me into a fan of Yasunori Mitsuda for life. One of the first pieces is the prologue of the story that sets the story of the political struggle, it remains one of my favorite songs of all time. It gives you a feeling of reading a book, while giving you feeling of the beginning of the epic story. Yasunori Mitsuda excels in slow but powerful song that is played in dramatic times like this piece of music, it is peaceful but powerful. The world map song is very catchy and you can play it in the background for hours on end. One of my favorite pieces is the song entitled "The treasure that cannot be stolen" it plays in some of the most dramatic moments in the game, when you hear it in-game you are guaranteed to shed a tear. A more dramatic variation is played later in the game. Yasunori Mitsuda is a great composer, he mixes dramatic pieces with one of the best town music in video game history entitled "Aveh, Ancient Dance." The very energetic song along with the children make it so great. I can't talk about Xenogears without mentioning the amazing boss battle music. Whenever you hear it, you are energized to fight the intense boss battle that follows. As you can tell from the sample music here, the soundtrack for Xenogears is an incredible soundtrack, I can do a whole write up on my critique of the musical score.

The battles in game are split up between a regular random battle, and the special gear battles. Each character can do a certain amount of attacks, and certain combos can create powerful attacks. The battle system may sound complex, but it is really easy to understand and master. The game game is excellent but had some downsides. The first main flaw is the slow text speed, in such a story-heavy game slow text can grate on you after a while. The second flaw is the dungeon design, which can range from good to atrocious. Everyone who has played this game will frown in sadness when you mention the word "Babel Tower" because of its grating design. The third flaw I can think of is a character, Chu Chu. I know that some people like adding "cute" mascot characters, but in a very dark game like Xenogears Chu Chu is an unwelcome piece of crap. It bothers the heck out of me when the world of Xenogears is crumbling around me and I have a stupid pink piece of crap in my part saying "chu."

Xenogears is an amazing RPG, one of my favorite RPG's of all time. It a great Japanese RPG with a dark storyline wrapped with one of the great videogame soundtracks. If you haven't experience this masterpiece, play it now. You can buy a digital download version of the game on PSN that is playable on PS3, PSP, and the upcoming PlayStation Portable console.


Anonymous said...

You shouldn't say things about Chu-Chu like that, she is very welcomed and is a main character in the game, get over it. Most people love her. she is cute and adorable.

Zero Saber said...

Chu Chu died for your sins, how could you...